Interview with Olivier van Malderghem, director of Au Circuit (At the Circuit)
Tuesday 1 February 2022, by ,
Every weekend, Anne and Jeff go to the Mettet motorcycle circuit. A racing driver, Jeff is training. Anne takes his lap times. Occasionally, at the Au Circuit café, she negotiates bitterly on the phone the loan of the motorbike. Anne’s gaze then meets that of Jacques, a client who, like his sidekick René is part of the furniture. They never exchange a word. One day, Jacques sets off. He joins her.
Why did you decide to shoot in black in white?
The idea for this film came to me during a harsh, dark winter as I made my way across the deserted track. The characters and plot came later. When viewed in black and white, that place, which I’d photographed before, unveiled its strange, worrisome nature. By showing those photos, I immediately realized that the (photo)graphic rhythm could be joined to the rhythm of the story (cycles, regular returns) and to those of the music (African percussion). So I chose black and white from the outset. Though black and white is disappearing from movie screens, it’s still highly regarded by photographers and amateurs of still images. And I’m one of them! For me, in films as in photos, black and white is a wonderful means of expression.
How did you work out the juxtaposition of the barfly with the young people’s activity?
From the beginning, I wanted to edit the scenes to alternate. So I imagined the editing process as a structure of scene ideas where reading the script wouldn’t help to determine where they go in the film. In the folder, their only connection were the staples… That’s what made this project difficult to “sell” to committees that wanted to be handed a theatrical type script, which was completely the opposite of what I wanted to do. This way of directing allowed me to shoot the entire film with two cameras in one weekend, which amounts to seven and half minutes of usable film per day, which is double the norm. And obviously, the “models”, non-professional actors, saw their performances magnified because nothing in the dialogues was indispensable. We only kept what was “good”: when they got beyond their stress and revealed their inner selves. Which couldn’t have been foreseen during the writing stage. I still think the original idea was important. But the medium we use today, the literary text called a “script”, no longer has any meaning. By updating the conceptual framework, films like Au Circuit can be made much less expensively and much better than what the industry offers us (which is still in the business of making theatrical adaptations).
What interests you about the world of motorcycles?
I like motorcycles as a peaceful, fast and flexible way of moving. I also like the blinding acceleration. I don’t like the hopeless, death-defying competition, the absurd risk-taking. Lastly, being a motorcycle rider and surviving is a question of ethics. You earn it. So for me, Claude is a positive character who took a wrong turn one day. Did Anne push him? That’s precisely the question!
What films have inspired you?
I like filmmakers who are sincere through and through, with no compromises. Nowadays, there’s a lot of pressure on filmmakers to toe the line: industrialized serial production. Tarkovsky was musical, poetic and extremely visual – he’s one of my models.
Is there a particular short film that has made a strong impression on you?
Copy Shop by Virgil Wildrich. Perfect in every way.
What’s your definition of a good film?
Its internal coherence, which can extend to technical choices and the production model. Also its freedom of tone. A freedom that assumes that you liberate yourself from the guiding authority of literature, soap operas, conventionalism, the theater… Moreover, a good film displays the same formal qualities as a great musical work. Each shot, each musical phrase is inventive, and for that reason they happily merge with the other shots and musical phrases (which are too). The sum of these elements, at the right time in the right place, forms a simple, organic whole. As Leibniz said, “the simplicity of the ways forms a part of the excellence of the work”. A great film is original and simple. It doesn’t sacrifice simplicity to originality, nor vice-versa either.